As you will all probably know by now there have been some massive transfers over the summer. Working for Manchester United, I have been asked numerous times about the likes of Zlatan Imbrahimovic and Paul Pogba but everybody seems to overlook the biggest transfer. That’s right. My groundhopping partner in crime, Matt, has now completed his move to Slovakia for an undisclosed fee. Rumours that have been circulating on Twitter stating he has moved for work purposes, continental beer and a bit of a change have been confirmed.
Some good comes out of every change though and for me it has allowed me more time to be cultural on a matchday and as a result drink far less beer. Don’t get me wrong; I love a decent beer but recently I have been growing tired of the stuff. Anyway, by being cultural I am now able to visit museums and have strolls through city centres without being dragged into some complete and utter dive of a pub by my Welsh friend. Honestly, some of the pubs he has taken me to wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of the exclusion zone in Chernobyl.
Thankfully today I wasn’t off to Chernobyl; I was off to the recently crowned ‘Worst town to live in the UK’, Bradford. It was closely followed up by Hull; a city which I quite like so maybe Bradford would be the same? I had been to Bradford once before, a few years back, when I went to watch Bradford City v Southend United with my younger cousin Ben. It was a nice day as it was his first ever football match; but I ended up contracting food poisoning from the local Nando’s and it left me stricken for a good few days.
I was only up in Yorkshire for a couple of days to allow the Sky man access to set up internet in our new house. Living a new life on luxury, he didn’t believe me when I explained that he had turned up to a student house. Of course, I do love my new balcony and walk in shower. It goes some way to making up for the absolute dive I called our house last year.
On the Monday night, I spontaneously decided to head to the massive Barkston Ash FA Cup Match between Bramham and The Malt Shovel. The latter won, despite being a pub team, as their line up consisted of Selby Town and Garforth Town players who had all clubbed together in their search of some silverware. Paul, Adrian and I had a nice evening getting some fresh air, but it was a bit of a boring non-event in a town that had little to offer other than being the location for the upcoming Leeds Festival. The following evening I witnessed York win a match as they beat Macclesfield 1-0 with the most non-league goal you’re ever likely to see.
Thankfully, Bradford had lots to offer and it ended up being one of my favourite groundhopping adventures for a while. I hadn’t really planned out my days very well and so already had an advanced train ticket from York to Manchester, meaning I could hop off at Leeds and get down to Bradford for only a couple of pounds. Sounds good, but in reality I had to be up at 07:30 to catch the 08:50 service down to Leeds.
York was extremely quiet. The rush of tourists and daytrippers hadn’t yet arrived in the city. I strolled slowly, without a care in the world, down The Shambles, passing Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate on my way down to the train station. I really do spend my time in a beautiful city and it’s a shame I only have a year left there.
I soon become bored of the quietness and turned to my Spotify where I selected Slaves album, Are You Satisfied? Emil, Rob and I are off to watch the British Punk duo in Sheffield in November and we can not wait. Brash crashes of sound drumming through my ears, penetrating through my head got me in quite a mood and I began marching down the River Ouse, ready to kick any geese or foreign tourists that dared to test my patience. Fists clenched, I punched my details into the ticket collection machine when I arrived at the station and I was soon on my way to Leeds.
Now, did I head straight to Bradford for breakfast? Or did I stick around in Leeds, a city that I had visited a few times in the last year, slowly but surely beginning to recognise where I was heading. It seemed the logical thing to do; stay in the city famous for creating Cluedo. The main question however was, what was I going to do? Wetherspoons of course. I opted to tick off the Hedley Verity, named after the former Yorkshire and England cricketer. I tutted as I stepped through the door and began to sing songs about Lancashire.
Most of Yorkshire hadn’t yet woken up, but the local pensioners were already off their trolleys at the bar, keeping John Smith’s in business. At least they were supporting their local economy. I was being boring, opting for a cup of tea, once the blonde bimbo behind the bar could get past our obvious language barrier. This came as some relief as my parents are convinced I have picked up a Yorkshire accent over the last two years, something which I strongly rebuff.
I wasted around an hour, sitting in the window reading my newspaper as the world walked past. Soon it was time for me to say goodbye to Leeds, at least until September when Leigh Centurions take on the Rhinos in the Qualifiers. Trains over to Bradford are pretty frequent, stopping only at New Pudsey, where you would usually alight for a trip to Farsley Celtic.
The city of Bradford sits close to the Pennines in West Yorkshire; like many towns in the north it is steeped in an industrial heritage and was once considered the wool capital of the world. It now claims to be a tourist destination, with the National Media Museum being one of it’s top attractions. The exhibitions that were on all sounded a bit naff but I decided to head over there first to see what was going on.
Found next door to the historic Alhambra Theatre, which was gearing up to show a performance of Wicked, it was fairly busy when I entered. The smell of popcorn was rife and it was then I realised that the museum building also doubled up as a cinema. It was then I had a bit of a dilemma… did I spend a couple of hours watching David Brent’s film or did I go around the exhibition? I decided that it’s not often you get to visit the National Media Museum and so I headed downstairs to a room full of old cameras.
I tried my very best to immerse myself in the literature that splattered the walls like an Art Attack mural. I really did. Around twenty minutes in I conceded defeat and became distracted when Bradford City fan Ben began messaging me, realising I was walking around the city not doing much. We made arrangements to meet up for a pint after he had finished work, and I moved onwards and upwards to the exhibition all about people’s faces.
Now, when I think about my face I consider it to be quite symmetrical but on reflection (quite literally) it isn’t. One of the girls who was volunteering obviously found it quite amusing as I tested just how symmetrical my appearance was. Perhaps she was manning that floor of the museum so she can stand around all day, longing for the arrival of her future husband who will have the most symmetrical face this part of West Yorkshire had ever seen? I obviously didn’t fit the bill and moped over to the emoji room where a few yellow faces winked at me and a large smiley poo welcomed me into the children’s TV section. Now we were talking!
Lifesize Wombles (they weren’t that big) and a proper Wallace and Gromit were under lock and key in a glass box. I was close to tweeting the RSPCA to inform them Tomsk and Alderney were being kept in conditions akin to those of a battery hen, but I’m sure Wallace the Lancastrian from Wigan had a plan up his sleeve to construct an invention to break them free. I left them all to it and went to see a couple of Thunderbirds and the cast of Rainbow. Zippy, as usual, wasn’t really saying much and remained tight lipped when I pressed him for a score prediction ahead of the evening’s big match. Being honest, I did feel like I was tripping and I needed a pint.
I waved goodbye to the whacky and wonderful world of the Media Museum and headed back over the road to City Park, where the tide was in. You’d have been mistaken for thinking you were on the Costa del Sol as families and hordes of children ran around in their swimsuits, swimming in the fountains that fill most of the square. This, for me, backs up my theory that constant Conservative austerity will lead to the closure of leisure centres. It has obviously already happened in Bradford and the local children are now left learning how to gain their ten metre badge by being thrown in the fountains outside Wetherspoons.
The sport and exercise drive didn’t stop there; this was just the tip of the iceberg. An Olympic Fan Park had been shoved in the corner of the square by Team GB. On the large screen was possibly the most tedious sport they could have shown as Chris Froome competed in the time trial. I like cycling and the long events usually make for good viewing, but I wanted something a bit more action packed and exciting. There was Froome, cycling on his own along the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro, while I was lying on a deck chair in the middle of Bradford in the rain. Not all was lost though as the Olympic legacy put in place by the 2012 games was evident for all to see with a sizeable queue waiting to play ping pong. Seeing a young asian lad beating a heroin addict as he couldn’t even hold the bat was a beautiful moment that will remain with me for life.
It said a lot when the people in Wetherspoons were more normal than those I had just encountered. The Turls Green was a bit of a rubbish one from our favourite pub chain; my cream tea was a bit crap and I found myself beginning to moan which is obviously a rarity for me. There was now some ping pong on the TV, so I opted to head back outside to watch it on the large screen so I could actually see the bloody ball. It began raining a bit more heavily and suddenly I was the only person left in the Fan Zone.
Having had quite a nice afternoon, I decided I needed to head deeper into the city centre to see if I could find anything a bit more cultural than a Wetherspoons. I ended up in some form of shopping centre and traipsed through some form of clothes jungle that the locals were calling Primark. There was some truly horrific clobber on show in there and they didn’t even stock flatcaps; what were they playing at?
Bradford, from what I saw, isn’t a city that is full of pubs but I stumbled across an absolute belter on my way back down the hill from the shopping centre. Ivygate is the oldest street in the city and on it stands the brand new Made of Bradford Bar which is operated by Bradford Brewery. Nestled amongst a number of abandoned buildings and charity shops is this small and rugged bar which I had to inspect through the window before deciding whether to go in. It looked very edgy and this excited me, despite the fact nobody else was in there drinking.
The bloke behind the bar seemed excited that he had a customer, explaining to me that it had been really quiet all day. I was spoilt for choice when I approached the silver coloured bar with the words Bradford Brewery slapped on it; you definitely knew which city you were while you were in this place. There was even a Bradford City scarf hanging proudly on the wall. One independent beer was on tap, an effort from Stockport called Ginger Tinge, but I was keen to drink something local. I don’t know how much more local you could get, as the pint of Northern Soul that I opted for could literally have been rolled down the hill in it’s keg from the place it was made. I wasn’t too keen on the tagline which stated my drink was ‘A golden beer from a golden county’ as we all know the latter isn’t true.
I perched myself on a large throne which stood facing the door, admiring the basic yet beautiful decor of the place. It was so typical of an independent brewery bar, and I absolutely loved it. This is the kind of place Matt and I would always aim for if we did prior research of a place before we travelled. It was a shame my Welsh friend wasn’t on hand to enjoy the place with me.
The bar had only been open two months and as I was preparing to leave a chief from the local council was dropping by to see how business was going. He seemed very positive about the venture and appeared very thankful that somebody had had the balls to open up something new and exciting on a pedestrianised street that was otherwise rather uninspiring.
Ben, at long last, had now finished work so I headed back down to the Fan Zone to meet him. Also now in the area was Aaron who had driven up from Warrington and was lost somewhere on the ring road, struggling to find somewhere to park.
As I made the stroll back down the hill and into the square, I noticed what appeared to be a groundbreaking story on a local newspaper board, which stated ‘Sandwiches reduced, from 95p, going quick’. While one Twitter follower encouraged me to get out a pen and insert the word ‘off’ in between ‘going quick’ I pondered whether there was anything more gripping that had happened recently in the local area? Was Bradford really that boring that local shops had now resigned themselves to advertising cheap sandwiches on the boards? A quick look online and there appeared to be a whole host of things going on with the most read story being ‘Yorkshire morris dancing group hits out over festival stoppping performers with black face paint’.
The three of us were hungry so we headed over to the other Wetherspoons the city has to offer. The Sir Titus Salt is rather impressive and named after the man who founded the nearby industrial town of Saltaire. Rather disappointingly there was no Saltaire beer on show, so I had to make do with Punk IPA, which is never a bad thing really, is it? Ben’s mother came along for some tea but she declined the offer of coming along to the football with us, probably because Aaron was driving.
It was a right drama getting back to the car as he couldn’t remember where he’d parked the thing. It took forever and soon become more tragic than the other week when we did a full lap of Halifax to find Lee’s silver Volkswagen… the lives we lead, eh? Things soon became more dire when Aaron loaded up his Spotify and it became a Beyonce-fest.
The drive over to Bradford Park Avenue took us around 15 minutes and I was in the middle of singing along to Single Ladies when we came to an abrupt stop opposite a cemetery. Apparently we had arrived at the Horsfall Stadium. I had my safety gear on and prepared myself for battle as we approached the turnstiles as Bradford Park Avenue and myself have a bit of history.
Last summer, I was on my way down to Cardiff on the train. It promised to be a rather tedious and boring journey down to the Welsh capital but all of that changed when two blokes wearing suits and funny coloured ties boarded at Manchester Piccadilly. I thought the strange assortment of colours would symbolise a football club but didn’t really think anything of it until they began discussing playing budgets, insurance deals for players and plans for a new stand behind the goal.
I was scribbling all comments down and soon assembled a list of clues as to which club they could be representing. It looked like a crime board from Silent Witness by the time I had finished.
If I was Worksop Town I’d get a couple of my defenders under contract 🙊 *innocent face*
— Joseph Gibbons (@JoeBillGibbo) July 30, 2015
As we raced through the Cheshire countryside my ears caught wind of a possible move for a player from Worksop Town and I soon took to Twitter to be mischievous for once. My performance even earnt me a tweet from the Worksop Guardian asking for a scoop and it was then I realised just how careful you have to be when discussing football business in public. The two officials from Bradford Park Avenue (I unanimously concluded it was them based on their playing budget and a player they talked about) were only saved further blushes when they got off the train in Shrewsbury as they were off to the Conference Regional Meeting at Telford’s ground.
Ever since that moment, I have always been careful about what I say in public. They, quite rightly, probably thought nobody on the carriage would have an interest in non-league football, nor did they think somebody would know the players they were talking about. On top of that, they probably didn’t think somebody would be live tweeting what they were saying. I could have tweeted an awful lot, but I knew that one day I would want to visit Bradford Park Avenue and tonight the moment had finally arrived. I was safe in the knowledge that if anybody annoyed me I could be really petty and childish and leak all the information retrospectively.
The welcome we received when we entered the ground was very nice. Far too many clubs recently have been less than welcoming and seemingly want a battle or an argument of some kind if you’re not a familiar face. I know the NWCFL are very hot on the welcome people receive at clubs and as visiting officials we now have to mark each club on their overall hospitality and attitude. Although I personally don’t fill in the sheet after an away match, I think this approach to things have definitely got me scrutinising absolutely everything whenever I tick off a new ground.
I bought a raffle ticket from the bloke who was camped next to to the turnstile, jumping on anybody who entered through the gates and then headed into the club shop on the left where I bought a matchday programme for £2. It was well put together and even my dad was complimentary about it when we got back which is quite rare.
The majority of facilities at the Horsfall Stadium were provided through the overuse of portacabins, or at least buildings of a similar feel. The bar was one of these rooms, and it was extremely busy, full of home fans swanning around in their distinctive green and white hooped shirts. Behind the bar they were doing a brisk trade and I was over the moon when I saw they were not only selling Bradford Brewery bottles but also had Saltaire’s Raspberry Blonde in the fridge; one of my favourite drinks.
I needed a drink anyway to wash down something that I had just been persuaded to eat. The woman who was working away behind the bar had stopped for a food break just moments before and came over to speak to us as a group of away supporters. I can’t remember what she was telling us as I was distracted by the strong aroma of mint gravy that was rising from below. She was cradling a polystyrene box with pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy with mint sauce dolloped all over it.
She explained to me that it was a local delicacy of sorts and wasn’t moving until I tried some after I had turned my nose up the combination. “Just try a chip!” she shouted in my face. It reminded me of one of those programmes you watch on Dave, like when Ray Mears travels to a remote Ugandan village and has to drink a concoction of donkey piss and monkey ears and if he doesn’t it would be considered an insult. Not wanting to annoy the Bradford fans, and wishing to keep my head down I accepted a chip from her small blue fork, prizing it away from the three prongs rather dubiously. It edged towards my mouth and then there was a moment that all eyes were fixed on me. Would I throw up? Would I demand more? Would I propose to the woman for introducing such a snack into my life? It was a taste sensation and I was instantly bowled over. Was it as good as the time I had to have beans on my pie in Matlock? Quite possibly.
Anyway, with my pint of Saltaire in it’s plastic vessel I was all set to head outside for the impending kick off. I thought I had cracked it but then the female steward who was on hand stopped us in our tracks and informed us we weren’t allowed past the line with alcohol. I questioned where this line was. Smiling, she paused and told me to “stop being so predantic” of course… I told her she meant “pedantic” and I carried on drinking safe in the knowledge that was probably going to be my smart arsed comment of the season.
The steward really was lovely and we had a good laugh with her and her son who turned out to be the infamous ballboy who had the arduous task of sprinting up and down the running track to retrieve it whenever it bounced out of play. For a ground (or stadium) with a running track, The Horsfall is quite good and it manages to possess it’s own identity. Behind the goal was a brand new stand (which had been discussed on that train journey) but we weren’t allowed in it as it didn’t yet have emergency lighting… despite the fact it was only four rows deep and was lit up perfectly by the floodlights. This was an instance where ground grading had gone over the top. Another odd part of the ground is the building which straddles the halfway line housing the changing rooms.
In fact, parts of the ground were arguably as interesting as the club’s long and turbulent history which includes a stint in the Football League before liquidation. In 1974, the club reformed and began playing in the Bradford Amateur Sunday League Division 4. The stand and facilities at their impressive Park Avenue stadium were demolished in 1980 but they carried on playing there with the pitch and some terraces remaining.
In 1988, a club finally moved back to Saturday football, joining the West Riding County Amateur Football League and then the Central Midlands League. The club moved to the NWCFL the campaign after, playing matches at Batley’s Mount Pleasant ground. During the early 1990’s the Sunday League club and the team who had recently started playing on a Saturday joined forces and they won the NWCFL in 1995. My team, Atherton Collieries only played Park Avenue once during their brief stay at that level and we lost 4-0 in early 1991.
The Horsfall Stadium has been their home since they won the NWCFL and gained promotion into the Northern Premier League. Now playing in the Conference North, they have come an awful long way since their drop into the fourth division of a local Sunday league, but equally, are still a long way off being in the Football League.
This was only Bradford’s second match of the season having opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw at Gainsborough Trinity. Still, they fared slightly better than Curzon Ashton who had lost 6-1 at home to Kidderminster Harriers… which is a fixture their fans could only have dreamt of a few years ago when they themselves were in the NWCFL and Kidderminster were in the Football League.
After being asked by the Bradford Park Avenue mascot why I was wearing a Manchester City coat, I was almost ready for kick off. I did want to retaliate by asking him why he was dressed as one of the Seven Dwarfs but decided against it, as like I said before, I was on my best behaviour.
The dwarf led the two teams out. Bradford were in their traditional colours of green and white while Curzon were in their blue strip. Lining up for The Nash was former Atherton Collieries winger Iain Howard… I say former in the loosest of terms as he played two matches for us last year as he’s from Atherton and was without a club. I naturally still claimed his as one of our own though.
It was a very, very entertaining match and it was a rollercoaster for both sets of fans. Avenue found themselves 2-0 up inside 15 minutes thanks to Ben McKenna and a Liam Dickinson, but were pegged back by Liam Tomsett and Iain Howard and went in at the break level.
Curzon then took the lead for the first time in the match through a Paul Ennis penalty, and despite Chris Sharp briefly levelling the score, former Avenue defender Danny Hall headed home to seemingly give his new side all three points. Sanchez Payne levelled proceedings in injury time.
It was viewed as three points thrown away for Curzon at the end of the match as they came so close to winning. After proving all the critics wrong last campaign, Curzon have again been tipped for relegation and will have to finish off sides like Bradford Park Avenue if they are to remain in a league which they still can’t believe they’re in.
The journey back home was a bit of a cramped one as Joe had promised to squeeze half of the away support into the back of his car. I was more than ready for bed by the time I got back to Atherton having started the day well before anybody else. Well, you might as well make the most of your day trip to Bradford Park Avenue, right?
It had been a great couple of days back in Yorkshire. For the third successive year I had managed to groundhop while I was in the process of moving house which again just goes to show I have my priorities in exactly the wrong place. Is there a problem with that; for the moment, no! Bradford Park Avenue was a decent club and one of the few in the Conference North who didn’t come across as up themselves and there only to serve as an organisation to take money off you. Well worth a visit at some stage… even if it does have a running track around the pitch!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 30 miles from York
- ADMISSION: £5 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2